Some things are easy to measure; how many new clients you’ve gotten in the past year, how much your expenses have risen, how much money you made last quarter, etc. Measuring other aspects to your business, however, may not be so clear-cut. When there are no items in hand to count, or a physical outcome to measure, how can we track our progress?
Trying to quantify and track the intangible data of your business becomes especially difficult when it comes to the world of search engine optimization. While there are common metrics and web-based tools to measure how your website is doing and how it is performing over time, it is not always obvious the direct effects that each SEO activity has on your website’s performance.
Though the effects may not be easy to find, it does not mean they are impossible to identify, either! There are plenty of metrics out there to tell you about your SEO performance, and even more tools available online to help you track those metrics. The trick is knowing what those metrics mean, and operating the tool correctly; interpreting the data is just as important as collecting it! Today we’ll be diving into exactly that, so you can master the different methods of measuring SEO success.
After all, what good is pouring your time, money, and other resources into SEO if you have no idea if it’s working? So let’s get to it.
Before we break down the steps to measuring your website’ SEO, you should have a good understanding of the different metrics and key performance indicators that are used to track SEO. With over 200 factors playing into Google’s algorithm, choosing which metrics are best to track for your website can get overwhelming quickly.
To get past this, you should identify the top few factors that are most relevant to your business and your website’s goals, and hone in on tracking those. These will become the “core metrics” that we’ll talk about later.
Below is a list of the common factors we generally recommend businesses to track on a regular basis.
When an internet user enters a query into the search bar and your website turns up on the list of results (without you paying to be listed for that word/phrase), and then the user clicks on the link to your website, this is how organic traffic is counted. Every visitor that visits you this way adds 1 to your organic traffic numbers.
High organic traffic is an indicator that you are ranking well on the search engine results page for keywords that help connect your target users to your website. Low organic traffic means that you are not showing up for these search terms, or you’re ranking for the wrong keywords.
High organic traffic does not always indicate SEO success. You need quality organic traffic. To measure the quality of the traffic that’s coming to your site, the following qualifiers are used.
The number of pages a visitor clicks on while on your site can help indicate if your website fulfills the user’s search intent, and if the user was engaged with the content on the website. If the user doesn’t navigate anywhere from your homepage/the page listed in the search results, this can be a less positive sign than if the user visited many different pages on your website.
It’s pretty intuitive that you’ll want visitors to spend a longer duration on your website, consuming the content you worked so hard on.
When a user leaves your site after visiting a single page, this is called a bounce. The bounce rate is calculated by dividing the number of bounces by the total number of sessions of your website. Some content will naturally have a high bounce rate, such as an informational page that answers a specific question.
However, if your business depends on users exploring your site, and pages that are meant to drive users to other spots on your site, this can be a sign of trouble.
An impression is when a user sees your website listed as a result from a search engine. The user does not need to interact with the listing at all, it is simply the number of views your website is getting on the SERP.
When a user clicks on your website’s result from a search engine query, this is called a click. Impressions and clicks go hand in hand. This relationship is shown through the click through rate.
Click through rate is calculated by dividing the total number of clicks by the total number of impressions.
If your website has a high number of impressions but a low number of clicks, this produces a low click through rate. A low rate could indicate that your website is showing up for irrelevant search queries, or there is something about your page title or meta description that could be improved.
If your impressions are low but clicks are high, you will have a high click through rate. This instance may indicate that you aren’t ranking for as many queries, but the keywords you do rank for are working. Or, if your impressions and clicks are both high and calculate to a high click through rate close to 1, or 100%, this is a very positive indicator for your website.
The position of your website on the SERP for a certain search query is known as your “ranking.” Your rankings for your chosen target keywords are the ones that you should care most about optimizing. You will be able to track the success of your keyword optimization efforts by looking at your rankings for those keywords.
High rankings can be a game changer for your website, as research shows that over 97% of people don’t look past the first page of results when making a search. Ranking as the top search result can increase your organic and click through rate dramatically; over a quarter of users click on the first result that appears for their search.
To get a sense of your overall rankings, you can look at the average position of your website. The average position calculation takes into account the top ranking your URL is placed at for all search queries that the page appears for, with the stipulation that the listing must have at least 1 impression. Then, it calculates the average position of these rankings.
Backlinks are links to your website/web page that exist on other websites and places on the Internet. Backlinks have been, and continue to be, one of Google’s top ranking factors (among many, as we know). It’s critical to monitor your backlink profile, as you should continuously prioritize building high quality backlinks and removing any spammy or sketchy links from detracting from your website’s authority.
There are plenty of resources out there that will tell you how to build backlinks, we recommend checking out our beginner’s guide to link building to get you started.
The type of conversions you’re looking for will depend on the goals of your SEO strategy and your overall business objectives. Conversions could be about lead generation; this could entail generating content downloads, converting website visitors to subscribers, or gaining contact/quote/consultation requests. Or, if you’re focused on further down the marketing funnel, you may be trying to turn leads into revenue and sales.
Either way, it’s important to figure out the keywords and other factors that are creating conversions, so you can continue these best practices to move you further toward your goals.
They say 'what gets measured gets managed' and as you can see there is no shortage of metrics to track for measuring your SEO success.
It's tempting to check rankings or search traffic daily, sometimes even multiple times a day for those who are especially anxious. There's a slight (big) problem with that approach: SEO is a long game.
It can take Google days to index new pages published on your website, and with Google indexing and recategorizing billions of pages per day with over 200 ranking factors thrown in for good measure, it's not so simple as publish and rank. It can take time for content to rank, and even weeks after publishing there can be fluctuations in how your content performs.
Here's a simple approach we recommend to all of our clients:
And alter your strategy accordingly.
Speaking of which, let's dive into how you can use these metrics to guide your SEO strategy.
We generally recommend giving an SEO strategy at least 3 months before course-correcting.
This depends on how authoritative your website is though, newer and less-authoritative websites or websites not publishing content frequently may want to stretch that out to 6 months.
So, suppose it's been 3-6 months and you want to make a change. How do you use metrics to do that?
In order to have a data-driven SEO strategy, you first need to identify the KPIs you want to focus on. If you choose traffic you'll end up with a very different strategy than if you choose conversions or revenue. This is because the metrics that you choose will dictate what actions you need to take in order to move them.
Say you want to increase organic traffic to your website. The easiest way to do that is to create content, and lots of it. If traffic is all you care about then any piece of content will do as long as it ranks. Suppose you want to increase organic revenue though, well that's very different. You'll want to zero in on the content that generates revenue, optimizing it so it performs better and creating similar content to drive up more traffic and conversions with it.
You use data to inform your SEO strategy by first identifying what success means to your business, then reviewing your success metrics (as we described above) to help inform you whether you are on the right track to reach your goals. If you are getting closer every 2-4 weeks then you are doing a great job. If your strategy is not moving you towards your goals, then it's time to re-evaluate things.
Usually it comes down to:
This free online tool tracks the performance of your website and collects insights on its visitors. It is often used to analyze customer behavior, because it provides visitor information (like demographics), identifies patterns in engagement, and gauges the success of certain marketing activities and campaigns.
This list is a summary of the tool’s offerings and benefits:
Google Analytics is a great place to start when it comes to tracking your overall SEO goals and measuring the progress you’ve made towards them.
Another free tool from Google, the Search Console hones in on how one’s website is performing in organic search. Instead of looking collectively at all traffic (such as organic direct traffic, traffic from ads, or traffic from site referrals) like Google Analytics, Google Search Console only looks at organic traffic.
Google Search Console helps users see their site’s keyword performance and organic traffic, and then identify issues and areas for improvement when it comes to how Google is indexing their pages. The tool provides clarity that is needed to find problems, and it also provides suggestions for fixes. It will help you find new ranking opportunities and learn how to boost your existing rankings, so you can get more people to your site from organic search.
Right from the tool, you can submit pages to the Google index, verify the health of your site’s URLs, and check for errors across your domain property. Overall, it is a great tool for making needed adjustments to your strategy.
To use this free tool, you must understand what marketing tags are. A marketing tag (sometimes called tracking pixel) is a piece of code that sends information about user behavior to your respective analytics tool. Common behaviors that trigger marketing tags to send information include link clicks, form submissions, pageviews, and scroll depth.
There are different types of marketing tags, such as pageview tags, conversion tags, and event tags. Depending on what kind of tag it is, the tag will have a different purpose. Marketing tags are often used for retargeting, content personalization, and determining which content is driving the most leads and sales.
With that high level overview of marketing tags, the purpose of Google Tag Manager is to allow you to organize, manage, and deploy your marketing tags, all without needing to alter the code. Although you need to have some technical knowledge to correctly set up tags, triggers, and variables, this tool is quite beneficial and easy to use once you get past the learning curve.
Google Tag Manager allows you to customize the data that is sent to Google Analytics; you can set up and track events like button clicks, PDF downloads, or advanced events.
Conveniently, our SEO software tool is compatible with these Google tools to simplify your SEO management software while empowering your strategy at the same time. If you are interested in learning more about our software, you can do so here.
Now that we understand the metrics and tools that are players in SEO tracking, how do we actually go about measuring our SEO success? Let’s get into the steps.
First and foremost, before you begin to evaluate your SEO activities, you must have in mind what the goals of your SEO activities are. Are you trying to increase your organic traffic, or rank first for a certain keyword, or decrease the bounce rate on certain pages? Depending on what you wish to change about your website, you’ll measure your SEO success differently.
Don’t have SEO goals set yet? Don’t worry-we have an entire post about setting SMART SEO goals here, and it’ll be a good place for you to start.
Once your goals are ready, we can start collecting the right data for analysis. We recommend starting broad with your data sets, and then narrowing in on more exact/refined data later on if required for measurement.
Start in Google Search Console, by looking at your organic traffic, impressions, and clicks. This will provide you a solid baseline of how your website is performing in general on Google.
Pick out the pages on your website that are meant to draw customers in and drive them through the marketing funnel, especially towards the top. These pages will be critical for improvement to get the best ranking possible and generate as much organic traffic to them as you can. Depending on the type of business, these pages could look very different from one another.
Then, use the tools and metrics we discussed above to analyze how the page is performing.
Create a list of the keywords that will best connect your target users to your website. You may choose to be aggressive and put a lot of resources toward a commonly searched term with a lot of web results, or you could take the approach of ranking for a greater amount of less popular search terms.
Either way, you can then evaluate how your site is performing for each of the terms on this list.
Core metrics will be determined by the goals of your SEO strategy. They could include organic revenue, organic signups, organic subscribers, etc. Whatever metrics fit your goals best, you’ll want to ensure you have access to the right tool to track them.
Once you’ve completed the previous steps, you will probably have noticed and tweaked several different aspects to your website in response to what you’re seeing in the data and reports. Make note of how core metrics are affected by these changes, and that can help inform future edits.
It will take time to know if your SEO strategy is working, and continuous strategy. Having historical data to look back on and compare with your current standings is the best way to see if you are headed in the right direction.
Remember, your website might not have a consistent slope of improvement. There may be dips in the graph, and months where the traffic is lower than others, but that is not a reason to get discouraged or feel like an SEO failure. These things may be affected by larger societal and economic trends. The important thing is to stay diligent, engaged, and optimistic with your SEO strategy. If you consistently ask yourself, “What areas of my website need improvement?” and you have the tools to evaluate this question and derive a solution, you will achieve SEO success.
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